Saturday, 22 March 2014

Nearing the End of the Golden Weather: A Bitter Sweet Time in Canterbury

I've been walking for a long time now but I really am not concerned with writing about the ins and outs of life on the trail. If you want to know more about that, read the book that I will be writing when I get home. Originally this article was to be entitled: The Canterbury Tales, Corporate Power Grabs and The Decline of Democracy in New Zealand. Unfortunately that article disappeared into cyber space back in Christchurch. It was all about how Environment Canterbury was declared dysfunctional by the government due to the fact that it was putting the brakes on new irrigation schemes in the Canterbury region. This democratically elected group was disbanded in the most blatantly unscrupulous manner by the current government on advice from dairy insider and former National party MP Wyatt Creech. I'm low on time so I'm going to quote Wikipedia here which is terrible but if you can prove these facts wrong please do so.

"Following his retirement from politics, Creech headed up a small group that took advantage of the opportunities created by the deregulation of the dairy industry by the founding of the Open Country Cheese Company located near Matamata, in Waikato. This has now grown into Open Country Dairy Co Ltd with both milk powder and cheese production facilities in Waharoa (near Matamata), Waikato, Awarua (near Invercargill) and Wanganui... In 2009-10, Creech was commissioned by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Local Government to head a review of the performance of Environment Canterbury.[7] Their report was highly critical of the performance and capability of the organisation, and while the recommendations were controversial, were fully implemented by the government... As former directors of failed investment and property company Blue Chip run by Mark Bryers, Creech and John Luxton are included (2012) in two lawsuits which allege breach of their duty to investors.[9] "

 Pretty Standard stuff there really. These are not conspiracy theories, just conspiracies. The further I go the more my mind is being blown by the way that democracy has been bulldozed out of the way in order to allow for more intensive dairy farming. This is being perpetrated by the very people charged with protecting our environment such as Environment Minister and Dairy investor extraordinaire Amy Adams. Apparently Mike Hosking said recently that people going on about the dairy industry should be silent because it is making us a lot of money. Making who a lot of money? Anyway I wrote to a new friend recently about an issue that I have learned about while walking. I thought for the purposes of saving time that I'd post it here. Me mate Dave won't like it but I do appreciate that he seems to be the only one reading this blog so cheers, Dave. Hopefully we can have a beer when I get back and forget about water quality for awhile.

An  issue that I want to highlight is the importation of foreign labour to keep costs down for dairy. The "we're providing jobs" argument won't fly. Firstly, converting a dry stock farm into a dairy farm does not provide new jobs to New Zealanders as the lobbyists like Federated Farmers claim. All this does is change the nature of the work performed. On the one hand, lobbyists claim that they are providing jobs to New Zealanders but on the other they say that New Zealanders won't do the work (we're too lazy) and are not qualified enough. They can't have it both ways. 

The reality is that the industry wants to pay low wages to trained people. If the industry paid a realistic rate, more Kiwis would work in the industry but kiwis don't want to do 60 hour weeks for "$46,246 or $49,159 (including total package value)" (Federated Farmers remuneration report) Even at the top rate this equates to as little as $16 per hour. Why would kiwis do this when they can go to Australia and make similar money labouring for 40 hours a week? If the rates went up to meet the real NZ market value for labour, people would start moving toward these jobs and we wouldn't have a situation where we are bringing in cheap labour while New Zealanders go elsewhere, at least not to the same extent. 

The only reason that we (water advocates around the country) make this point is that the industry use the "we're providing jobs" argument all the time as an excuse for pollution. Also, on the one hand the lobbyists crow about dairy being New Zealand's top bread winner with over $13 billion contribution to GDP. Anyone from the industry who were to read this would then cry foul, saying I want to drive them broke. It's all just duplicitous spin. I don't have an issue with the average farmer making a living, in fact I support them, but this has become a huge corporate gold rush with our waterways as the victim. Ordinary farmers who have been at it for generations will be the victims when this bubble bursts.

Anyway, this whole thing has made me even more jaded than I already was. I'm really tired physically So here's the good: I LOVED walking Hayman Road along lake Pukaki. It is truly one of the most serene and beautiful places I've been to even if it is man made. Mount Cook looks straight down on the lake in it's timeless splendour; I wish I could have stayed longer. In fact, Canterbury has been so far the most outstanding place in New Zealand. Next up, Otago.

Lance Talstra